It seems like we first saw XBLA game Rocket Riot years ago. The old-school 2D twin-stick shooter looked pretty interesting, but it disappeared for a while and then saw a release last month to little fanfare. Quite why this was the case is beyond us, as Rocket Riot is a superb little shooter that will provide hours of fun whether you're playing alone or with friends.
The premise here is very simple. You take control of a man with no legs who just so happens to have a rocket pack strapped to his arse. This allows him to hover around the game's many enclosed arenas, shooting enemies and objects with a rocket launcher that you're conveniently carrying at all times - oh, and you're a pirate, not that this has much of an impact on the game other than a few still image cutscenes that crop up from time to time.
With the left analogue stick you control your movement, and the right handles your aim and fire, making this feel somewhat similar to XBLA favourite Geometry Wars. It's not quite the same, though, mainly due to the fact that the hover pack makes movement less precise than it is in Bizarre's classic twitch shooter and that you have to release the right analogue stick to fire. The longer you hold the right stick down the more pace is on the rocket as it's released, so it's not just a case of holding a certain direction and spamming enemies with a stream of rockets.
While the arenas you fight in are enclosed, the objects within them aren't likely to be around for long. Everything you see can be destroyed, with rockets sending blocks flying all over the place. Over time these destroyed areas of each arena will rebuild, but it's great to be able to make your own path through to enemies - some of the game's challenges even require you to hunt for objects hidden behind the scenery. It's not exactly Red Faction: Guerrilla quality destruction, but it's a neat addition to the gameplay and something not expected in an XBLA game.
For solo players Rocket Riot features a lengthy 80-level campaign in which you'll be completing various challenges, ranging from taking out a set number of enemies to scoring goals while carrying a football, to destroying a certain amount of objects to taking on boss characters. You're always using your hover pack and rocket launcher, but there's more to do here than simply blasting away at enemies for the duration of the game.
Pick-ups play a big part in the gameplay, too, with 20 on offer, coming in four different varieties. Green pick-ups provide you with better weapons, blues bolster your defences, yellows are more for fun than any real combat advantage, and reds work against you (making your character bounce off the scenery, for example). These pick-ups really come into their own during the game's numerous multiplayer game modes, playable locally with up for four players or online over Xbox LIVE. You might think you've got the upper hand, but it only takes one player to get hold of a massive rocket power-up for the entire game to change.
In addition to the 80 challenge levels there's an Endurance mode that pits you against wave after wave of enemies for as long as you can survive - a mode that's playable with friends cooperatively. With online leaderboards included for every game type there's incentive to keep playing, and the Achievements are well thought out to encourage going for the more advanced takedowns and not simply shooting a rocket into someone's face from no more than an inch.
This fun gameplay is backed up by some really quite brilliant retro visuals. The game is played entirely on a 2D plane, but the isometric view point gives the visuals depth. It's as if an 8-bit video game has been transported into the modern era, and the way the pixelated graphics break apart when rockets explode looks superb. The incredibly catchy song that plays throughout needs a mention too. It'll get into your head after a few minutes and just about manages to avoid being annoying.
Rocket Riot is a simple game in all areas, but the core gameplay is great fun and the visuals have a retro feel that gives the game a trendy appearance. You might grow slightly tired of the rocket launching gameplay if you only plan to play alone, but assuming you're going to venture online or play with some friends on a single machine it's well worth its 800 Microsoft Point price tag.